Systematic Theology I - Lesson 21

Sovereignty of God (Part 1)

The Scriptural teaching and issues related to this central question

Bruce Ware
Systematic Theology I
Lesson 21
Watching Now
Sovereignty of God (Part 1)

Doctrine of God

Part 11

V. Attributes of God (part 8)

A. Methodology and the Doctrine of God

B. Incommunicable Attributes

C. Communicable Attributes

1. Intellectual Attributes

2. Moral Attributes

3. Attributes of God’s Rulership

a. Freedom

b. Omnipotence


c. Sovereignty

i. Scriptural Teaching

ii. Issues

iii. Possible Positions

Class Resources
  • An introduction to theology, answering the questions of what is EST (Evangelical Systematic Theology), why study EST, and how it relates to other theological disciplines.

  • Introductory issues of how to do EST and the criteria for assessing theological formulations.

  • Issues of cultural Christianity, and the evangelical position of "contextualized normativity."

  • Begins with a discussion of the background to the discussion (Pelagius, Augustine, Council of Carthage, and semi-Pelagianism), and then a discussion of Luther, Calvin, Arminius, the Synod of Dort and the Five Points of Calvinism.

  • Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and their views of Israel and the church

  • A discussion of these three positions and the key figures in each (Schleiermacher, Ritschl, von Harnack; Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr; Carnell, Henry, Graham)

  • The beginning discussion of revelation and the specifics of General Revelation

  • A continuation of the discussion of revelation with an emphasis on Special Revelation, moving into the topic of Inspiration (definition and key passages).

  • A survey of the recent debate, defining inerrancy (including the relationship of hermeneutics and inerrancy), and its relationship to authority.

  • The definition of illumination, why it is necessary, and how we come to know truth. The critceria for canonicity is then discussed and why the canon is now closed (i.e., why no more books would be accepted into the Bible).

  • Why there is a need to know God, and "theism" (arguments as to whether there is a God or not).

  • Can God be known? The Doctrine of the Trinity (Scriptural basis; historical background; Monarchian heresies)

  • Continuation of the discussion of the Trinity and the church's rejection of Monarchianism

  • Beginning of the discussion of the attributes of God's character, and how the discussion is organized.

  • The related doctrines of God's self-sufficiency and his love. (The lecture begins in the middle of a sentence but not much content is missing. Point V., subpoints 1 and 2 were covered in lecture 14. See Outline tab.)

  • God's incommunicable attributes are those that he does not share with us: self-existence; self-sufficiency; infinity; omnipresence; eternity

  • Completes the discussion of God's incommunicable attributes by discussing immutability, the doctrine that God does not change.

  • Discussion of those attributes of God's character that he shares (to some degee) with his creation, beginning with his intellectual attributes (omniscience).

  • A continuing discussion of God communicable attributes, both intellectual (Omnisapience; truth) and moral (goodness; love).

  • Continuation of the discussion of God's communicable moral attributes (love, grace, mercy; holiness, righteousness, justice) and the attributes of God's rulership (freedom; omnipotence).

  • The Scriptural teaching and issues related to this central question

  • Hyper-Calvinism, Process Theology, Arminianism, and Calvinism

  • Concluding discussion on Calvinism

  • An introduction to the doctrine of humanity and the doctrine of humanity's origin (Adam and Eve)

  • Theories on the structure of the human soul (Monism, Dichotomy, Trichotomy) and the transmission of the soul (Creationism, Traducianism).

  • Sin is one of the most foundational and significant topics in Scripture. The doctrines of salvation and sanctification are meaningless without an accurate understanding of sin. The Old Testament teaches both the personal and corporate aspects of sin. New Testament teachings include the essence of sin and total depravity.

  • The facets of the Fall, theories of Original Sin, and God's triumph over sin

What value is there to attempt to know the unknowable or to try to understand someone that, by their own description, is beyond our understanding?

Even though we cannot know everything there is to know about God, there are some things you can know because he has revealed them to you. You can develop a systematic theology as you contemplate what you experience in nature, what you can read in the Bible and what you can know from history. This will give you insights into who God is, how you can have a relationship with him, and how you will live your life differently. Dr. Ware begins by giving you a systematic theology definition and explains systematic theology teachings and concepts that you will find in systematic theology books. He also helps you to learn both the inductive and deductive approaches in assessing various criteria so you can determine for yourself the validity of any theological position.

Some of the first lectures in Dr. Ware’s Systematic Theology I give you the core theological positions of major movements like Calvinism, Arminianism, Covenant, Liberalism and Neo Orthodoxy and help you compare and contrast their different perspectives. Also, since the Bible is the primary source for determining your systematic theology, Dr. Ware defines and explains key terms like inspiration, revelation, inerrancy, illumination and canonicity. God’s existence and attributes make up a major part of this class. The final lectures in Systematic Theology I focus on what the Bible teaches us about humans and sin.

The study of systematic theology is a mixture of science, art and faith. Join Dr. Ware as he leads you in understanding the core teachings of Scripture in a way that help you articulate your systematic theology, deepen your relationship with God and live out your life as a changed person.

This is the first of a two semester class on systematic theology. We recommend the book Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem as a companion book for this class. Dr. Grudem also wrote an abridged version entitled Bible Doctrines that includes discussion questions that are helpful for using in a small group/classroom situation. 


V. Attributes of God

    A. Methodology and the Doctrine of God

    B. Incommunicable Attributes

    C. Communicable Attributes

         1. Intellectual Attributes

         2. Moral Attributes

         3. Attributes of God's Rulership

             a. Freedom

            b. Omnipotence

c. Sovereignty

I am including sovereignty here as an attribute, although I am really not convinced that it is an attribute per se. It is almost always discussed within the section on attributes of God in a theology text, and I've included it for that reason. But when you think about it sovereignty is not so much an attribute as it is the expression of attributes for a particular function. It is really a functional idea. Sovereignty is rulership, reigning, controlling, governing. So it brings together a whole collection of attributes in order for God to be the Sovereign, the Ruler over all. He has to be omnipotent. He has to have wisdom and knowledge. He has to have moral goodness. All of these things come to bear and focus on sovereignty as the God whose character is good, wise, powerful, holy. All of those things come to bear then in his ruling, leading, and governing over all that is.

Let me give you a definition of sovereignty, first of all. After that we will take a look at Scriptural teaching about Divine Sovereignty. I think you will see this is a teaching that is wide-spread through Scripture. It is not something that God wants us to be unclear about. Then I want to raise the issue of Divine Sovereignty, especially as it relates to human beings, moral creatures. Then we will talk together about possible positions that are taken in trying to deal with the question of sovereignty as it relates particularly to moral responsibility and human freedom.

The definition of sovereignty: God plans and carries out his perfect will, as he alone knows is best, over all that is in heaven and earth, and he does so without failure or defeat. So sovereignty is really a statement about God's control over all that is, his ruling over all that is, and his planning and executing of that plan. He plans and he carries out a perfect will. How wide is that plan and execution of plan? It is over everything in heaven and earth. Everything is encompassed in that. And how successful is he in doing that? He does it without failure or defeat. So it is his wisdom and his power brought to bear in planning and carrying out what he alone knows is best. He does that over every sphere of the universe of all that is in heaven and earth. And he succeeds in accomplishing his purposes. He doesn't fail and is not defeated in it.

1)Scriptural Teaching

'''Deuteronomy 32:39'''

This is in the summary statement of Moses (Moses' song to the children of Israel). In fact, God commanded, in the previous chapter, Moses to give this song to the people so that they would remember that he is God when they go after other gods (and he said they are going to). I want them to remember this song so they know who I am, who has called them, who they are; they are my people and so on. This is how it ends, this song of Moses at verse 39.

Deut 32:39 See now that I, I am he, and there is no god besides me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from my hand.

The remaining verses say that no matter what comes against him, he will defeat it. He will be victorious in accomplishing his purposes.

Notice in verse 39, a very interesting feature in relation to what God said concerning his own rulership that we find in a number of other passages as well. Notice, I call it "a spectrum", in fact I refer to these as spectrum texts. They are passages of Scripture where you see the two sides of the spectrum announced, and God is in control of both edges of it, both extremes, and obviously the point is everything in between. Sort of like when we say the Lord is the Alpha and the Omega. That doesn't mean that he existed in the first moment, and he will exist again in the very last moment. Rather, he exists in every moment, from the beginning to the end; the Alpha to the Omega. So these spectrum statements in the Bible are meant to encompass everything. So it is the case here. Look at Deuteronomy 32:39 again.

Deut 32:39a See now that I, I am he, and there is no god besides me; it is I who put to death and give life.

Do you see the spectrum? Death and life

Deut 32:39b I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from my hand.

Interestingly, God's control is over, more than what we think of most readily life and healing. Who is going to quarrel with the fact that God is the one who is in control of life and healing? God does that. But the other side of it is stated in this text. Death. It is death and life. It is wounding as well as healing over which God has control. So we have this statement, and he wants the people to know that there is nothing in life that stands outside of his sovereign rulership, his will is done in both spheres of life.

A comment here. You know when I teach this in churches, so many of our people have just never been led to think in these ways from Scripture. And so be prepared to go slow to deal with questions as they come up. Allow your people time to think this through, and most importantly constantly direct them to the text.

While we are on this spectrum, this isn't the order I had plan to give them to you, but let me show you a couple of other passages with spectrum teachings.

'''1 Samuel 2'''

This is Hannah's song at the birth of Samuel. You remember Hannah was barren, and she prayed to the Lord to give her a son, and she promised she would give him back to Lord. And the LORD did honor her prayers and she in fact, gave him back to the Lord. Samuel was a great prophet and a very godly man in many ways. Here in I Samuel 2 is her prayer, her song of praise to the Lord in which Mary, the Virgin Mary, echoes in her song of thanksgiving to the Lord.

1 Sam 2:1 Then Hannah prayed and said, "My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies because I rejoice in your salvation. 1 Samuel 2:2 "There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides you, nor is there any rock like our God.

Notice that in Deuteronomy 32:39 he says, "There is no god besides me." Here we have that same thing echoed; there is no god besides God. One of the things God wants us to know is this distinguishes him as God. One of the things that trouble me greatly about theological views that diminish divine sovereignty is that God himself has indicated that this is what constitutes him as God. Who are we to pull away from God because we don't like the implications of it? We are not quite sure what to do about it, so we construct a different system that seems to works better, and yet God wants to go on record, yes this who I am.

We will move on down to verse 6; this is where the spectrum is shown.

1 Sam 2:6 "The Lord kills and makes alive; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Sam 2:7 The Lord makes poor and rich; he brings low, he also exalts."

This is similar to the spectrum recorded in Deut 32. The Lord kills (death), and the Lord makes alive (life). He brings down to Sheol. This is synonymous parallelism in Hebrew. He is just saying the same thing again. He takes people to the grave, but then interestingly, he raises them up. I think that is indicating something along the lines of resurrection or perhaps life giving anyway. "The LORD makes poor and rich;" That is both sides. We're comfortable saying God provides; he gives to the poor. Well he is in control of the poor being poor as well. This is so obviously true to anyone who has a conception of God's power. What poor person is out there that God could not, at a moment, provide something for them? Even in the commonest sense of God that we would have in our broad Christian circle, isn't it true that we believe that God purposely chooses not to give what he could give to poor people so that they would not be poor? Even with the most basic understanding of God that all of would share, it clearly is true that God could provide for this poor person something that he or she doesn't have, and he chooses not to, evidently because nothing is given. So isn't God in control of who is poor and who isn't? The same thing could be said of death and life. Every person who dies, every single death that occurs is ordained by God. How can you say that is so? We are talking about God here. Of any person who died at this moment, couldn't God sustain their life a moment longer, a day longer, a year longer? Couldn't God do that? Absolutely. So if by nothing else, at lease by permission he allows people to die who he could sustain in life longer; he chooses not to for whatever reason. So God is in control of life and death. For any person who is killed, couldn't God intervene and stop the sniper from shooting the bullets or stop the bomb from going off? I was in Vietnam on my way to Madagascar when I was 15 years old for this trip around the world where I visited 20 some countries and spent a week in Vietnam during the war in 1969. I stood with a Vietnamese man, a mountain village man who told this story of a Viet Cong soldier who came into the village about 2 weeks earlier and had pointed a gun to his head and told him either you deny Christ or I am going to kill you. And he said, "I will not deny Christ, I will not." He pulled the trigger, and it didn't fire. He worked on the gun a bit and got it ready again and he said, "You got lucky; deny Christ or I'll kill you," and he pointed the gun to his head. Again he said, "I will not deny Christ." He pulled the trigger, and the hammer broke, so he couldn't even fix the gun to try it again. So here is one example, and the miracles I heard from these people in this village are just astonishing. Couldn't God do that in other cases too? Yes, of course he could. A person who dies of cancer, couldn't he bring healing? You name it, couldn't God do something? Yes, he is omnipotent, he is omniscient, he is in control of both life and death. Every person who is conceived, who is given life, God governed that. Every person who dies, God governs that. Wounding, healing, poor, rich, God governs it.

'''Isaiah 45:5-7'''

Here is another passage, a spectrum text in Isaiah 45. It is one of the strongest statements.

Is 45:5 "I am the Lord, and there is no other;

In this third spectrum passage what is the theme again introducing it? "I am God." Do you get the point? "I am God; this is what constitutes me as God."

Is 45:5 "I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known me;

When he says, "I will gird you," he is talking about Cyrus who doesn't even have a clue that YAHWEH is this. Cyrus hasn't even been born yet. Cyrus doesn't come for 200 years. But he is talking about Cyrus who will be used by God to accomplish all of these things and defeat Israel on his behalf and sustain Israel. It is just an incredible thing.

Is 45:5 "I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known me; Is 45:6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, Is 45:7 the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.

Here we have another image of light and darkness. Surely God is the one who gives light. Creating darkness, the word that is used there for the verb is ''bara'', if that means anything to you. If you have had Hebrew, ''bara'' is in Genesis. In the beginning ''bara reshith, bara elohim''. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. This what God alone can do. In Scripture the only one who can ''bara'', create in that sense is God. We can create in other ways; we can take things and work with them to make paintings or whatever. But only God is the subject of the verb ''bara'' in Scripture, and it comes another time as well.

"Creating darkness, Causing well-being" The word is ''shalom'', a great strong term for wholeness. When we think of everything as right and all is at peace that is shalom. He causes well-being.

And he creates (''bara'') calamity. Do you know what the word calamity is in Hebrew? It is the word ''ra'' which is the strongest Hebrew word for evil or disaster. For situations in the Hebrew Bible where things are completely destroyed, it is ''ra''. So here we have in verse 7, he ''bara ra''. He creates evil. Now this is the text my friends. Now if you think this is really problematic, it is. And this is really difficult to deal with. For goodness sake acknowledge this what the text says. This is what the Bible says. So let's not spin off on our own theories out there and leave the Bible behind. We cannot have a conception of divine sovereignty that does not account for passages like this. Everything on both sides of the spectrum are in God's hands, all is his jurisdiction.

'''Daniel 4'''

Daniel 4 is one of the strongest statements on sovereignty in all of the Bible. It is remarkable because these words are spoken by the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar at the end of Daniel 4.

Dan 4:34 But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored him who lives forever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

   Look back at verse 29.

Dan 4:29 Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon.

This was after Babylon had been built and everything was at peace there.

Dan 4:30 The king reflected and said, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?"

I wonder if it was that last phrase that really got him in trouble: "the glory of my majesty?"

Dan 4:31 While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, Dan 4:32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever he wishes."

Do you get the point Nebuchadnezzar? You are king at this moment by my command. I gave you everything you used to build it. I enabled every stone, every building every aspect of this great city. I enabled it. Nebuchadnezzar is humbled. Can you imagine this? It really happened; seven years he went and grazed with the cattle. His finger nails grew really long. Can you imagine not trimming your finger nails for seven years? Living in the dirt? Not cutting your hair or trimming you beard for seven years? Think what this wild man looked like after seven years.

The end of the time came.

Dan 4:34 But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored him who lives forever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Dan 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

Get this. Let's not miss it. Nebuchadnezzar says his dominion is an everlasting dominion. What does that contrast with? In his own reign as king, at best he had 50 years or so. At best you have this little, tiny piece of time that is called your life that you reign over this little bit. And God's reign is everlasting; it always was and is now and always will be. His kingdom endures from generation to generation. Do you get the point? It is not exactly parallel. No matter who comes up, no matter who is king one after another, guess who is king over them? God is. No matter who gets elected to Congress or the Senate or the President or mayor or anything else, it doesn't matter who gets elected, God is king. It always was that way, and it always will be that way.

I think that is the point in Isaiah 6.

Is 6:1 In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple.

I don't think the main point was just a date like Jan 12. It is in the year of King Uzziah's death. The point is when Uzziah dies, who was a good king, guess who doesn't die? Guess who is still here on his throne? I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted.

Dan 4:35a All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing...

We have seen this before, the same phrase, the same idea. Where have we seen it? Isaiah 40. And what was the point in Isaiah 40? You have meditated upon it. What was point the when he says, "The nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scale. They are to be counted as nothing before me"(Is 40:15,17). What is the point? Self-sufficiency. He alone is God. When he said in particular that the nations are as nothing, it means they will come and go; I remain. What can the nations, with their total capability, add to or take away from God? The answer is nothing. They can't add a cotton-picking thing to him. They can't take anything from him. They are nothing. They are less than nothing and void. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing.

Now catch the next phrase.

Dan 4:35a All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but he does according to his will

So what is the point of this? In what sense are the inhabitants of the earth accounted as nothing? In terms of sovereignty and ability to rule. In terms of them accomplishing their will contrary to his will, guess what, it will never happen. It will never happen. The inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but he does according to his will. So the inhabitants of the earth may try as they please to try to thwart the purposes of almighty God, and they will fail every time. His will is always done. Now how extensive will his will be done.

Dan 4:35b And among the inhabitants of earth;

I guess that is pretty much all of it, isn't it. It's Russia. That's the United States. That's Saudi Arabia. That's Iraq. That's Israel. That's China. That's pretty much all of it. Among the inhabitants of earth in the host of heaven.

Dan 4:35c And no one can ward off his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

What does that mean? How would you paraphrase that? No one can blow him off. No one can thwart him from accomplishing his purposes. No one can stay his hand or keep his hand from doing what he chooses to do. Isn't that what it means? No one can keep his hand from accomplishing what he wants.

Dan 4:35d Or say to him, "What have You done?"

What is that about? No one can question his wisdom, question his justice, question his authority, or question his right. No one can point a finger to God and say, "Why have you done this?" What does it sound like? Romans 9, right?

Rom 9:20 who are you, O man, who answers back to God?

Who are we in Romans 9? We are creatures. Will the creature call back to the creator, to call him back into question? Who do we think we are?

If you look at the definition that I gave of sovereignty, it pretty much is this passage, isn't it? It is restated. The definition: God plans and carries out his perfect will as he alone knows is best, over all that is in heaven and earth, and he does so with out failure or defeat. That is this text. God is sovereign over all that is.

Here are a few other passages that will help us.

Psalm 135:5

Ps 135:5 For I know that the Lord is great and that our Lord is above all gods.

Here again is this theme of "I alone am God". No one else can do this. What distinguishes me from all the pretender deities out there is this:

Ps 135:6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.

Ask yourself the question, how wide is the scope of God's sovereign control? Heaven and earth, all of it. And how thorough is his control? How comprehensive? How universal? How broad is his control? He does whatever he pleases. He is never thwarted. There is no qualification here. He doesn't say, except when stubborn human beings stand in his way, then he has to back up and say, "Oh my, I wasn't able to do that." Or what about angelic forces? You know the spiritual warfare phenomena that is in our Christian subculture right now makes it look as though it is really kind of up in the air who is going to win this thing. Satan and demons are really strong, really powerful, and we have got be really careful. Actually we do, don't we. My goodness, who are we to stand up against the demons? Goodness, they will have us like that. This is the point; we are not just ourselves in this spiritual warfare. We belong to the family of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, reigns over every power and authority in heaven and on earth. Demons are no contest for God. If he wanted to, right now, he could bring an end to all demonic powers and Satan himself. He could bring their lives to an end right now. This is no contest. Why do we have this frenzy over spiritual warfare? I think it is because people don't know God. They don't have a clue what power God has, his irresistible power, his un-thwarted sovereign reign.

This passage in Psalm 135, the whole chapter, is devoted to examples of how God exercises his sovereign control. He brings about what he wills in nature, and over the Egyptians; he is in control over all it.

Proverbs 21:1 is one of my favorite verses because it is short and easy to remember. I brought it to mind many times in praying. How often the Lord has used in my time of trusting him to bring it to mind.

Pro 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes.

Here is the image I have in mind, it is no doubt not the one the Psalmist had, but I bet he had something pretty close to this. I told you before how we would go to the beach at the Pacific Ocean often with our two girls. I can remember being at the beach, and one of the things they loved to do was go up above where the tide was coming in, maybe ten or fifteen feet and the would make these channels for the water to run in. Then they would take buckets of water and run up there and dump them in and have this little river going down. Little Rachael, three years old and you know what she could do in that sand? She could carve that channel into the sand exactly where she wanted it.

The Lord can turn the hearts of a king, the way he does channels of water. You think about this when you are facing tough circumstances, or someone else is in control or is the decision maker that affects your life. Bring this text to mind and take heart and you take confidence. The person could be pagan; this doesn't say just believers. God changed the heart of Nebuchadnezzar; he changed the heart of Darius; he changed the heart of Pharaoh. He changes the heart of anybody he wants to. So you pray, "Oh God, this person who is making this decision that is going to affect my life, if this is your will, if you want me to do this, then move his heart; change his heart."

Did I tell you the story about moving here and selling our house up in Illinois? There is this story in the Exodus account of when the Israelites were about to leave; God told the Israelites go to the Egyptians and ask them for their gold and silver and he said, I will move their hearts so they will give it to you. Think about this, after nine plagues have happened, Israel has gotten off scott-free and Egypt has suffered horribly. This has all the makings for livid, vivid hatred against Israel. But they come and they ask for all of their gold and silver, and Egypt says, "Of course, have it." And they give it to them. This is just utterly remarkable. This is the stuff that they made the golden calf out of, but it also the gold that they used to make the other ornamental type things for the Tabernacle that the Lord wanted them to make.

So I have this in my mind when we are selling our house up in Illinois. We have sold three houses by owner, and I don't know if I want to go through this again because this last one was a real test. We were selling our house by owner, and we were coming down to the wire in terms of being able to close on it in time to get the money from them so that we could close on our house here in Louisville that we had pledged that we would put a down payment on. It got to be a very tight window. I did not qualify for a bridge loan (that where you can't sell your house, but the bank will loan you enough money to make the payment until the house sells). I didn't have enough income or equity or anything to qualify for a bridge loan. I asked the Louisville banker when I had to have the money to have enough time to close on a house here. She said I needed it by the next Friday. So we went into that weekend with our house still for sale by owner and we had very little interest in it. I prayed, "Lord God, you turned the hearts of those Egyptians so they favored the Israelites. Would you do that with one person in regard to our house; would you cause someone who could buy our house to look at it with favor and want to buy it?" Saturday went by and we may have had one person, a looker but not interested. Sunday afternoon a woman called and said, "I saw your house advertised; can I come over?" She came over about four o'clock in the afternoon, and she walked in the house and her eyes were just lighting up and she said, "I love this house; can I call my fiance?" Her fiance was a construction worker. You know all the glitches a house house, and this house had lots of glitches, but this construction worker comes over and says, "What a great house; this is really a wonderful house." As he walks around, and he just loves it. She calls her mother and her aunts, so there were about fourteen people by Wednesday who came and looked at house, and guess what? They all loved it! They signed on our house Thursday and they had plenty of cash since they had been saving up for it.

Take these things to heart and say, "Lord God you can turn the heart of a king, of a buyer for a house, some employer out there, some guy who doesn't care anything about you, but you can make them think what they should think, make them decide what must be decided. You can do that. You turn the heart of a king like channels of water."

Romans 9-11 is one of the most striking passage of affirmation of divine sovereignty. You can see this in Romans 9:11 with the love of God regarding Jacob and Esau.

Rom 9:11 For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to his choice would stand, not because of works but because of him who calls,

This is one of the main themes in this portion of Scripture. God does what he chooses. You see that in verse 14. In fact, it is only because God does what he chooses. So he chose Jacob not Esau.

Rom 9:13 Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

Isn't that why verse 14 makes sense?

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

Can't you see that if you attempt to say God chose Jacob and loved Jacob because of something about Jacob, and he didn't love Esau because of something about Esau, then you just removed the grounds for the complaint in verse 14. If you remove the apparent injustice then there is no reason for the question? Does that make sense? The only reason verse 14 makes sense is because it looks like it is unjust.

You love Jacob and hate Esau before the two have done anything good or bad. You just chose it this way? Yes, that's how it works. Well is there injustice then, then the question makes sense. Paul's response to that is, "May it never be!" Don't you dare call God's election of people, of some to be saved and some not, unjust. May it never be.

Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

Paul's answer to this is, "Don't you realize you are talking about God who will do chose to do what he wants; he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy." The amazing thing is that he has mercy. There is a great message by R.C. Sproul (he must have given this 20 years ago) called "The Locus of Astonishment." The point of the message is (and I rob his thunder, but it is still a great message to listen to) we worry so much about the problem of evil. This is not the problem for God. We all deserve condemnation. The problem of evil is no problem. No matter how horribly people suffer in this life, it pales in comparison to what each one of them and us deserves. From God's perspective, the problem is not the problem of evil; the problem is the problem of goodness. This is God's problem, "How can I show kindness to people who do not deserve it, who deserve my judgment. So I will have mercy on whom I have mercy." Marvel that he chooses to have mercy. The point is that he chooses it.

And then in the same statement a significant shift takes place in verse 18.

Rom 9:18 So then he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.

He is speaking of Pharaoh. The point of this is to say that God is in control of everything in life. Life and death, poverty and riches, calamities, natural disasters, sicknesses, horrible diseases, prosperity, life. God is in control of all of it. We cannot thwart his purposes; we cannot challenge his sovereignty and we dare never question the rightness, the legitimacy, the justice, and the righteousness of what he does.


What issues come? There are two main issues that are inter-related and distinguishable issues. The first one I think of as a mechanical issue. The second one starts with an "m" also, I have alliterated these so they will be easier to remember.

The mechanical issue: How does divine sovereignty, his control of everything that happens, mesh with human freedom? How does it work that we are free, yet God is in control of everything. This is a very legitimate question unless you want to hold the view that there is no human freedom at all in Scripture. I do not hold this view, and very few have argued for a total absence of human freedom. I think Marin Luther actually did, and I think he was mistaken in doing so. He was mistaken; in my judgment, he was conflating the notion of freedom and total depravity. He drew the conclusion that because people are totally depraved, they are not free. It looks clear from Scripture that people are surely held accountable, including unbelievers for the things that they do.

The second issue is the moral issue. If God is sovereign and in control of everything, how can it be that he can hold us accountable for evil, and he himself is always and only praiseworthy? We get all the blame, and he gets all the glory. How can this be? How can it be that if God is sovereign, that he is in control of everything, that we bear moral responsibility for evil? And God, on the other hand, is always altogether praiseworthy. We are blame-worthy; he is praise worthy. How can this be if he is sovereign? Why doesn't he bear the blame for it? "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!"(Rom 9:14) Why isn't he unjust? Why doesn't he bear the culpability of injustice? How come we do?

These are distinguishable insofar as the first one, the mechanical one, is a philosophical as well as theological question that is difficult to try to square how these two things fit together. How do the cogs of each mesh so you have a functioning coherent system. God is sovereign; we are free. In what sense can we be free? In what sense can he be sovereign? How do these things go together?

The second one is by far the most troubling one. Here there is the greatest amount of angst, the greatest amount of deep, deep concern. It has to do with the fundamental fabric of God, of the universe in which we live, of our accountability before him, of heaven and hell, the whole nature of this thing we call moral life and moral responsibility. How do we account for that in light of divine sovereignty?

We will look at these next time. How are we going to do that? We are going to take a look at models of divine sovereignty and human freedom and moral responsibility. I am going to walk you through a series of models, possible positions that are taken on this and talk with you about how each one of them would deal with these questions. Then I will present my own, which is a modified version of a classic Calvinist view.

Blessings on You.