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TEXT: Psalm 37:23
SUBJECT: God is Sovereign #5: Over the Elect
God is Sovereign. This is the name of our Sunday afternoon study, and well describes what the Bible plainly teaches from cover to cover. When we speak of God's Sovereignty, we mean two things: God reigns over all and rules all. He reigns because all power is rightly His and He rules because He exercises His rightful power.
This power-the Bible says-is both universal and eternal. The Lord rules everything at all times. Psalms 103:19, 145:13-
The Lord has prepared His throne in Heaven,
And His Kingdom rules over all.
Your Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom
And His dominion endures throughout
Most Christians have no problem with His rule-as long as it remains vague and unapplied. The moment it is clarified, however, and applied to all aspects of His creation, many begin to object to it, some reverently, others with loud voices and faces twisted with rage.
This is not how the Bible looks at His Sovereignty, however. Nor is it the way our Lord Jesus Christ thought about it. Psalm 97:1 sees God's sovereignty as a matter of celebration-
The Lord reigns!
Let the earth rejoice;
Let the multitude of the isles be glad.
And, referring to the most sensitive part of God's Rule, Jesus gave thanks for it, Luke 10:21-
I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes: Even so, Father, so it seemed good in your sight.
God rules over all His creatures, including the ones at the top of the food chain: God rules over all people without exception: men, women, children, babies, slaves, masters, Africans, Asians, Europeans, and-coming to the point: both the saved and the lost. This is the topic for today's-and next week's--sermons. God is Sovereign over All Humans. Today, saved humans; next time, lost humans.
This is taught on the first page of the Bible. When you read the Creation Story, you'll see God is in charge of the whole thing. He doesn't negotiate with the sun, moon, and stars, or strike a deal with Adam and Eve. He created them all and He assumes the right and power to rule them. A few years ago, I went to a funeral and heard the preacher say over and over again about the deceased, 'She partnered with God'-and urged us all to do the same.
I know why he put it that way, but his words were very ill-chosen: God is nobody's partner: He is Lord of All! From Page One, this is what the Bible assumes, and we ought to agree with the Holy Spirit, and not take a defensive posture when talking about it with other Christians and non-Christians. Wise? Yes. We should be that. But ashamed of the King? Never!
The Bible presumption is: God controls everything, including every person. (I know this brings up knotty questions, and we'll get to some of them shortly).
I'm not against sociology or marketing, but they have produced one bad fruit that I'm very much against: Human categories. They have divided people according to race, sex, age, income, education, and even 'lifestyle' (by which they mean, 'what they spend their money on!). On a superficial level, I suppose, these categories predict behavior, an inner city young black woman, for example, is likely to vote differently than an old suburan white man. Or shop at different stores.
But, whatever value there is in such 'profiling', the human race is, in fact, divided into two-and only two categories: the Saved and the Lost. That black inner-city young woman and that old white suburban man have far more in common than either of them thinks. If they're both Christians, they are one-whatever sociologists say! And the same is true if they're both unbelievers!
With the coming of Christ, the Old Covenant distinction is abolished: There's no such thing as a Jew or a Gentile any more! The only difference between people now is between those who: worship and serve the creature and those who worship and serve the Creator.
My point is simply this: Though the human race is divided between the Elect and the Rebrobate, both are under the Lordship of God. He is sovereign over everybody in both categories! Some submit to His sovereignty, some resist it, but both are under it!
To say that God rules His people needs little proof. If God is a King, we are His subjects; if He is a shepherd, we are His flock; if He is a Father, we are His children.
What isn't so well known is the detail of God's Rule over His people. God is not 'kind of' in charge of us, but 'fully' in charge.
We see this, first, in our natural endowments. Some people are stronger than others; some people are smarter than others. These natural abilities are not 'natural': they are gifts of God, I Corinthians 4:7-
Who made you to differ from one another? And what do you have that you didn't receive?
For example, the Lord gave Stephen Hawking both his brilliant mind and his weak body, thus fitting him for a life of science, and not iron working!
Bobby Bonds and Pete Rose were both great baseball players from 1960's through the 1980's. The men both had sons who played ball as well. Like their fathers, both sons were hard-workers and very much tried to become Big League players. But Rose's son didn't have the talent while Bonds' son did, and now is the all-time leader in home runs, both in a season and over a career.
In the second place, we see God's rule over our own work ethic. Is everyone's success-or failure-merely a matter of 'programming'? Or does effort play a role as well? We all know the answer: Of course, mental and physical effort has some effect on our lives. It's not the only thing that matters: a man with an IQ of 80 couldn't possibly be a physicist, no matter how hard he tried.
Well, if our success in life depends on our own willpower and persistence and dogged determination, God must have less say in it than I'm letting on. Right? Wrong! Deuteronomy 8:17-18. Speaking of Israel's prosperity in the land of Canaan, God warns them to remember where it came from-
Then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth', you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.
This power of mind and body are gifts of God, distributed the way He wants to. This is another way God rules His people.
He also rules us by way of outward circumstances. You have no control over weather, but tomorrow's weather will dictate how you dress, how fast you drive to work, and so on.
These outward circumstances are under God's control, not your own. Where you spend tomorrow night is also under His control. If the traffic is light, you'll be home by 6:00; if it's heavy, by 7:00; if you get in a fender-bender, by 9:30, and if you're killed in an accident, not at all!
All of what I've said so far is pretty obvious. We many not think of it very often, but when we do, we cannot argue with it. But, truth-be-told, these are not the points some Christians contest and get really, really mad about!
While they let God control the traffic and the weather, and even one's natural endowments, they hang on tightly to the Spiritual Side of Life. Certainly God does His part in saving and sanctifying us, but then it's up to us; it depends on what we do with God's offered mercy and whether we 'partner' with the Lord or not or how well.
Is this what the Bible teaches? No.
When it comes to salvation, who chooses whom? The fact is: both God chooses us and we choose Him. But which choice is independent and which is dependent? In other words, does God choose us because we chose Him or is it the other way around? Ephesians 1:4 says-
Just as He chose us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him.
It's helpful to know Greek, but here, plain English will do. Who's the subject? Who's the He? Go back to v.3, and you'll find that it is-
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul says, 'He's the chooser'. Who's the object of His choice? Who's the chosen? Again, it's right on the surface-
Just as He chose us.
God's choice of us doesn't mean that we didn't choose Him first, of course. Except it does, for-
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.
Since only God was here before the foundation of the world, He has to be the original chooser.
His choice could not be based on what He foresaw that we would do, because 'what He foresaw we would do' was the very design of the choice-
That we should be holy and without blame before Him.
God didn't chose us for salvation because we were holy in fact, or in prospect, but to make us holy!
We are saved-not because our choices rule God's choice, but His choice rules our own.
QUICKENING, ENERGIZING, DIRECTING, PRESERVING
The salvation God sovereignly planned in eternity, He executes in time. Ephesians 2:1 says it is God made us alive; 2:10 adds the good works we do in life are His workmanship; and this applies not only the work themselves, but even the desire to do them, Philippians 2:13-
For it is God who works in you both to will and do of His good pleasure.
The salvation He planned, gives, and sustains, He also keeps, I Peter 1:5-
We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation to be revealed to be revealed in the last time.
The completion of our redemption is also entirely of God's doing, Romans 8:30-
Whom He justified, He also glorified.
And so, if God made us what we were and, now in Christ, has made us what we are, it seems to follow that He rules us-not in general, but in particular, not in the big things only, but in everything.
The conclusion can be held alongside Scripture and confirmed, Psalms 37:23; 31:15-
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord
My times are in your hand.
THE SIN QUESTION
If you're paying attention, you know I've left something out, something rather conspicuous. If God is in complete control of our lives, how can we sin?
Does the Lord make us sin? Does He command us to sin? Do our sins offend Him? Are they against His will?
The short answers are: No, He does not want us to sin, no less does He force us to sin. The Bible is very clear on this, cf. James 1:13 and Acts 2:23-
Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am temped of God', for God cannot be tempted Himself, neither does he tempt any man.
You have taken with wicked hands, crucified and slain.
And so, since we do sin and since God doesn't make us or want us to sin, how can He be in control of all aspects of our lives? Only the Lord has the full answer to this question, but here's part of it, Genesis 50:20-
You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Who said that? It was Joseph. Who did he say it to? He said it to his brothers, other than Benjamin. What is the 'it' he had in mind? Their terrible sin of selling him into slavery.
Does he hold them responsible for what they did? Yes, he does! You meant it for evil. The brothers were envious and hateful and deceitful and bloodthirsty! Not one of their motives was good or innocent or neutral. They were all bad!
But did God permit them to do it? Of course, He did. If He hadn't permitted it, they couldn't have done it. But this is not Joseph's point-that God 'permitted' it. Without using the word, he implies God actually decreed it! That it was the Lord's will for him to be sold into slavery! If that sounds harsh and unworthy of God, Joseph didn't feel this way. He saw his brothers' sin as serving the good-and saving-purpose of God-
In order to save many people alive.
While Joseph may have meant nothing more than 'to save the family from starvation', looking at it from our perspective, we can see that the salvation God had in mind was far bigger than that! God directed the sins of Joseph's brothers (for which they were fully responsible) to bring into the world-
The Savior of the world.
The sovereignty of God does not justify our sins or excuse them or make them in any way other than the hateful things they are, but He is in full control of them, and uses them to further His holy and loving purposes in the world. This is why St. Augustine, the man who loathed himself for the immoral life he had lived, could coin the phrase-
The blessed or happy or lucky Fall!
God rules every part of the believer's life, from womb to grave to Heaven! He never takes His eye off of us or His love away from us. This means, we can trust Him in good times and bad. For whatever betides, He is our God! Amen. Praise the Lord!
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