The Sovereignty of God
What does it mean that God is sovereign?
Many times when people hear this term "the sovereignty of God" they will ask me what this means. To be a sovereign simply means that one is the supreme ruler of a country. The word Potentate used in the Scripture passage above, also means one who is a ruler or great authority. However, notice that this person is not any ordinary ruler. God is described in this passage as the only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of all lords, the One who alone has immortality and everlasting power. He is supreme above all things that are created in heaven and earth. He knows all. He sees all. He works all things according to His own purpose, plan, and will. God is the sovereign and supreme One above all.
There are many other verses of Scripture that teach that God inhabits the supreme position in the universe. In Psalms 103:19, David declares, "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all." In addition, David prayed to Almighty God, "Blessed are you, Lord God of Israel, our Father forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is yours" (1 Chronicles 29:11). And so His sovereignty declares that all is His. God in His Sovereignty sits upon a throne and rules over all because all is His possession.
Furthermore, Paul in Romans 11:36 taught, "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever." Everything has been created by God and must function through His grace and permission because these things were created for Him. He is all in all.
There is a similar message in Revelation 4:11. "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created." An incredible teaching is revealed by these verses. In each passage God is declaring His sovereignty, His power, His authority, His knowledge, and His ability. This is the definition of sovereignty.
The sovereignty of God is taught from the very first verse in the book of Genesis to the very last verse in Revelation. Genesis 1:1 declares that in the beginning, God created all things in His sovereign power and authority. He ordered His creation and brought into existence all mankind. Genesis continues by revealing God’s sovereign choice of the family of Abraham and the nation of Israel to bring forth His promised Messiah, the one through whom He will reveal Himself to the world. God continues in the New Testament declaring His sovereignty in choosing each one of us to be His sons and daughters. Then in the book of Revelation God reveals Himself as the One who sits upon a throne of judgment to rule over His Kingdom for ever and ever as the Lord God Omnipotent.
Do you believe that God is sovereign?
Now the real question is, do you believe in the sovereignty of God in your life? If everything is going well in your personal life, you are happy, and your work is doing good, then you will probably answer, "No problem. I believe in the sovereignty of God." However, if things are not going well personally, and you are unhappy with life you may be questioning the sovereignty of God. Or you may be saying, "Lord, I’m confused. I don’t understand what’s going on. Are you in control or not?"
The solution to your questioning or charging God is to trust His sovereignty. Belief in His rulership and control is fundamental to your faith. This is the ground floor of your Christian walk. Without it you’ll stumble, struggle, and you will fall. Why? Because unbelief is, in reality, questioning the sovereignty of God and His ability to govern your life. When you don’t trust that God is sovereign you are saying that He doesn't know what is happening to you, He isn't working, and that He is not able to take care of your life. This is what unbelief is based upon.
Simply listen to the thoughts that go through your mind, or the words that come from your lips in the midst of difficult times. Do you say to yourself or to others, "Why is God doing this to me? What is the purpose for this? God, do You see? Do You care how I feel? Do you know what I’m going through?" What you are doing is questioning the sovereignty of God. You’re questioning who He is and the position He holds as God and as King.
Either God is the sovereign Lord, or He is not. There isn't any middle ground. He is either the person He declares Himself to be, the God of heaven and earth that created all things, who is working all things together for His purpose and end. Or, He is not the God of heaven. He’s either big enough to handle your problems or He’s not. He’s either knows what He’s doing or He doesn't. He can either handle your problems or He can’t. It’s one way or the other. To believe in the sovereignty of God you only have one option.
The results of trusting God’s sovereignty.
There is always a result from believing or not believing God’s Word. Paul declared that there is "joy and peace in believing" (Romans 15:13). In addition, King Jehoshaphat told the inhabitants of Jerusalem: "Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper" (2 Chron. 20:20). Therefore, what should you see in your personal life if you believe that God is in complete control of it?
Belief in God’s sovereignty gives reason and purpose to your entire life.
The first and most important result of trusting in God’s sovereignty is that you will sense that real meaning and purpose for all that takes place in your life. You will be able to commit even the tragedies and the evil that has happened to you into God’s hands because you will trust that He has an ultimate plan. That is what the sovereignty of God means. God is big enough to handle it all.
In Romans 8:28, Scripture declares that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose. This verse declares the power of God’s sovereignty over all the things that occur in your life. He is working all things for our good. God doesn't use just some of these things, but all of them. He doesn't use just the good things for His purposes, but all things to bring about His ultimate purpose in our lives. He’s shaping everything together to bring about good in your life. However, God is speaking in this verse only to believers, not to unbelievers. He promises that His sovereign plan is being worked out for those who love Him, for those who are the called according to His purpose, and for those that have surrendered to that call.
Consequently, just as God has a plan for your life, so does Satan. What is the plan that Satan has for those apart from Christ? It’s a plan of destruction. Jesus said in John 10:10, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." Here is the clear description of the two opposing plans of Satan and God. Satan’s desire is to destroy. Jesus wants to give you life and that more abundantly.
Before we came to Christ all of us tasted the fruit of the enemy’s plan of destruction. I sure did. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I turned to Christ. I was tired of the havoc in my personal life. I heard the promise that there was something better. That’s why I surrendered my heart to Christ. God has continually worked His plan out in my life and I am confident He will do the same in your life too. He’s simply waiting for you to fully surrender your heart up to Him.
In Ephesians 2:10, it says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." He’s before ordained a plan and purpose for your life, and He is working all of those things together for that purpose. Paul also declares in Ephesians 1:11 that God is working all things after the counsel of His own will. If you put these two verses together they are an incredible declaration of God’s sovereignty. But when I share these truths with people they say, "I see no purpose, no reason, no good that could ever come out of this evil that’s been done to me." Many times, I have to respond, "I agree with you. I can’t see at this moment any good that could come from this. I don’t know how this is going to work out for good. I am unsure exactly how God will turn this circumstance around for good. But, I know that His Word declares that He will by His sovereign power and by His everlasting love."
Let me give you an illustration that explains the difficulty of ever seeing God’s complete plan. Have you ever taken a jigsaw puzzle, one of those that have a thousand pieces, and dumped it out on a kitchen table and then began to work at it? You know that it will ultimately make a beautiful picture because there is a promise that this is what it will look like by the picture on the front of the box. But, you still hold up one little piece of the puzzle and think to yourself, Where could this piece possibly fit? How can this little glob of color have anything to do with making this beautiful picture?" How do you begin to make sense out of this one piece? Usually what people do is, you find all of the outside pieces. Why? Because you know these are where the picture ends. You start with what you know is true and sure. Then you slowly fit all the inside pieces together to make the complete picture. However, some give up in the midst of the work and never finish. I remember doing that one time with a puzzle I did with my kids years ago. That puzzle sat in our living room on the card table for a long time. Why? Because we didn't want to do the work it took to study each piece and think of where it might fit. It takes time to do a puzzle like this.
I think that that is a perfect analogy of the difficulty of understanding the whole picture of your life. You may look at that one particular happening in your life as one piece of the puzzle and think, I don’t know how situation fits into the whole picture of my life. In fact, I’m struggling to find anything good that has resulted. My life is just a pile of pieces in a confused mess on the table. But, I encourage you. It does fit! Every piece is an important piece in the puzzle. God promises you that fact. In fact, without that one piece you won’t have that beautiful picture that’s on that box. You need to take more time and study that piece in the light of God’s Word, trusting that God is sovereign and has all the power in heaven and earth to turn every evil around for good.
Remember, Scripture declares that God has promised you a satisfying, purposeful, and fulfilling life. It’s like the promise of a beautiful picture on the outside of the puzzle box. David prayed, "Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands" (Ps. 90:17). God promised, "For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation" (Psalm 149:4). Will you let God put that beautiful picture together in your life? But, you may say, "Where do I begin?"
Begin with the corner pieces of the puzzle. In other words, begin with what is sure and what you are confident of based on God’s Word. Stand on the facts that you are sure about such as: God loves you because He has proven that by sending His Son to die for you. Stand on the fact that God is wiser than you are and can see the big picture already. Stand on the assurance that God is a just God and will not play games with your life. When you stand on facts such as these it will keep you from giving up on the puzzle altogether. Give God time to show you how all the pieces of the puzzle fit.
A good biblical example of this strategy is seen in the life of Joseph. Joseph was seventeen years old when he had a dream concerning the future of his life. In this dream his parents and his brothers came and bowed down before him. Joseph told dream to his family and his brothers began to hate him and planned to get rid of this dreamer. Ultimately, they became so resentful toward Joseph that one day they devised a plan to sell him into slavery and tell their father that an animal had killed him. While in Egypt Joseph was sold to a wealthy man named Potiphar. Joseph worked hard and found favor with Potiphar being placed as the overseer of his entire house. However, Potiphar’s wife had lustful eyes for Joseph because Scripture declares he was a handsome young man. She began to pressure him every day to have a sexual relationship with her. He refused. Finally, she unjustly charged Joseph to get back at him for his rejection of her. Potiphar threw Joseph into prison. But, there in prison Joseph met the Pharaoh’s baker and butler. One night these two men had dreams that greatly troubled them. Joseph told them that he could interpret their dreams. He told the men the meaning and these dreams came to pass just as Joseph had said. The butler was restore to his position before the Pharaoh, but the baker was executed. Some time later the Pharaoh had two dreams that troubled him and he searched for someone who could interpret his dreams. Then the butler remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh that there was a man who could tell him the meaning of his dreams. Joseph was brought to Pharaoh and he revealed the meaning of the dreams and was rewarded and given the second position of authority in Egypt. Then a great famine came into all the land of Israel and Egypt. Ultimately, through many circumstances Joseph’s brothers, his father, and all his family came to bow at his feet as they sought food to sustain their lives. Finally, Joseph saw the fulfillment of the dream he was given over 30 years earlier.
How did Joseph understand all of the heartache, prison time, and slavery? Joseph said to his brothers, "It was not you who sent me here, but God" (Genesis 45:8). Joseph also speaking to his brothers said, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).
If Joseph had not believed in God’s promises to him and the power of His sovereignty to bring them to pass, Joseph could have become angry and bitter against God. However, Joseph didn't because he stood on the facts of God’s Word (Ps. 105:16-19). He believed that there was a reason and purpose for all that had occurred.
Would you have responded in the same way? Would you have continued to seek the Lord, to serve Him, and to trust Him as Joseph did? Being sold into slavery by your own family! How unfair and unloving! He was framed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison. He does good to the butler by telling him the interpretation of his dream, the man gets released and then forgets Joseph. Yet Joseph trusted God, that He would fulfill His ultimate plan. He believed in the sovereignty of God. Can you trust that God is working the same way in your life no matter what has happened to you?
Belief in the sovereignty of God will cause you to rest in unsure situations.
Second, if you trust in the sovereignty of God, you are going to find an assurance and rest in the midst of very unsure situations. Everyday life is an unsure situation because you don’t know what a day may bring forth. Trusting the sovereignty of God is to rest in knowing that God holds all situations in His hand. When major trials come your way, you trust in Him even though you don’t understand how it’s going to work out. You believe God’s sovereign power is able to do exactly what He has promised to do.
In Matthew 10:28, Jesus told His disciples to go out and preach the Gospel and that they were not to "fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Jesus wanted them to reverence Him, not fear man. He assured them that not one sparrow falls to the ground except by the Father’s will. An incredible statement is made here. Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will. He goes on to tell them that every hair on their heads is numbered (Matt. 10:29-30). Why does Jesus tell them this? It is a declaration of the sovereignty of God. It was to cause His disciples to rest in the unsure situations that lay ahead of them. He declares God’s supreme authority over the smallest animal in the kingdom, or the smallest part of their body. If this is true, God can surely take care of them and He can surely take care of you.
Another great example of men resting in the sovereignty of God is the story in Daniel chapter 3, of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These three young Hebrew captives would not bow to the golden idol that king Nebuchadnezzar set up. The king brought these three men in before Him and gave them one more chance to either bow or be cast into the fiery furnace and be burned. And they said, "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). They weren't careful at all in their answer to the king. They were very bold and very sure about their God. They were resting in a very unsure situation in the ability of their God. They knew their God was able to deliver them one way or the other. He would deliver them out of the fire or out of the king’s hand. God honored their faith in His sovereign power and delivered them out of the fire. Do you have this kind of bold faith in the mighty hand of God to deliver you?
One last example is found in the life of Ezra. Ezra was one of the priests that led the children of Israel back from bondage in Babylon into the land of Palestine. Under king Artaxerxes, Ezra came and requested of the king that he might go back to his land and take many of the Jews with him. However, then Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers as an escort because He had confessed to the king saying, "The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him" (Ezra 8:22). Therefore, Ezra proclaimed a fast and asked all the people to pray and entreat God for His protection and mercy. God answered their prayer. Scripture records, "Then we departed…and the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road. So we came to Jerusalem" (Ezra 8:31-32).
Ezra was confident in the midst of those circumstances that God was able to deliver them because he trusted in the sovereign power of an Almighty God. Do you trust Him for the future or are you worrying? Is He able to protect you from the ambush that is beyond your horizon?
Belief in God’s sovereignty causes you to be obedient
Last, the sovereignty of God causes you to be responsible and obedient. The idea that you can do nothing is one of the great misconceptions concerning the sovereignty of God. A true belief in the sovereignty of God will cause you to do everything in your power to be obedient to God, not sit back and let God do it all because He is sovereign. This concept is simply not biblical. In fact, the only way you will ever see God’s sovereign plan accomplished in your life is if you seek, believe, and obey His every command. Neither will you receive the rest and comfort promised to those who seek Him.
The relationship between what God has promised to do versus what man is supposed to do is very misunderstood by many Christians. Many think, If God is so great and powerful and I’m so weak and failing, God will take care of it all. I don’t have to do anything. I shouldn't worry about all this, because even if I don’t do what I’m suppose to do, God will still bless me by His grace. However, this is not what Scripture teaches. The other side is just as wrong. Another person thinks, I've got to do everything and be the perfect obedient servant, and if I don’t, God’s plan will fall to the earth. Now there must be a perfect balance between both of these teachings or we fall into laziness or striving in our own strength.
For years I tried to reconcile the teaching of the sovereignty of God with that of human responsibility. However, I came to the conclusion that God never asked me to try and reconcile these two teachings. I believe it’s an impossible task. Scripture simply teaches both truths, and you must believe both and walk obediently in both. The reason why you can’t reconcile these two teachings in your mind is because you have a finite mind attempting to understand and comprehend the ways of an infinite God. You can’t do it. Paul said that His ways are past finding out (Rom. 11:33).
The only thing that is really important to remember is that the sovereign God of the Bible has declared that you must be responsible and obey Him. That should settle the question. If He tells you that you must obey His commandments, you must believe, you must follow, you must seek, you must ask, that should settle the issue. Don’t make it any more difficult that you have to on yourself.
To settle this question of being responsible, let’s consider our supreme example, Jesus Christ. In the sovereignty of God, Jesus came to earth to bring about a sovereign purpose of redemption. That plan was for Christ to die for the sins of the world. In Revelation 13:8, it declares that He was slain before the foundations of the world. Therefore, in God’s mind, it was a done deal before the world was ever created. God knew that Adam and Eve would disobey and the entire world would follow in rebellion. Therefore, He sovereignly purposed the plan to redeem mankind. However, when Jesus came to earth what did He declare to John the Baptist when he resisted baptizing Jesus? Jesus said, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). Jesus could have said, "The Father has this all planned out, He can do whatever is necessary." But, that is not what He said, nor is that what Jesus did. Jesus was responsible to fulfill all righteousness. And, so should each one of us.
Every command of Scripture is a command by a sovereign God for you to be responsible and obedient. You must then make the choice. That choice is a choice to love Him in return. What does it mean to love Him? Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Remember, all things work together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). The sovereign working of God’s will in your life is coupled together with your love for Him.
Let me end with a very well known verse of Scripture that reveals the balance of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6). This verse encourages you to take the action of trusting God with all your heart and His promise is to direct your path in His sovereign plan. A very important part of this equation is that you don’t lean on your own understanding as to how He does this. Simply obey this exhortation and questions concerning God’s sovereignty won’t trouble you.