Bible Study 2022
Sovereignty and Freedom
We want you to know about the attributes of God. And the emphasis today is on the sovereignty of God. Psalm 103:19 says, “His sovereignty rules over all.” God is the absolute ruler of this world and the entire universe. God is the one who decrees all things, who purposes all things and who accomplishes all things that He decrees and purposes. He is in charge of absolutely everything.
So, does the truth of divine sovereignty eliminate human will? When you believe in the divine sovereignty of God, you face the problem of how does human will fit into that? If God has ordained everything, if God has prewritten history, if God is in charge of everything, if God purposes and fulfills His purposes, then just exactly how do we fit in? How does human will fit in?
Does God’s divine decree eliminate human will? If God has planned it all, purposed it all, predetermined it all, predestined it all, then does human will play any part? And what about human responsibility? How do we resolve those things? It is a compelling question for those who understand these doctrines. But it is also a nagging question for people who believe the truth of divine sovereignty.
Now, if you’re expecting an explanation of this apparent paradox, I might disappoint you. And if you’re expecting a philosophical answer that’s going to take us through all the ways people try to resolve this in their own minds, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re interested in what the Scripture says, you won’t be disappointed; we’re just going to take the biblical view.
Open your Bible to Isaiah 10:5 as an Old Testament illustration. These are representative illustrations of how Scripture deals with this issue. Understand that the prophet Isaiah is used by God to pronounce coming judgment on Judah and Jerusalem because of their idolatry. God is saying, “There is only one God. I am the living God. I am the one who pre-wrote history and I do My will in the world.”
Isaiah says, “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation and commission him against the people of My fury to seize the spoil, to take the prey, And to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That is at the same time a strange statement, because of the opening words, “Woe to Assyria” which is a judgment on Assyria.
God is also pronouncing a curse on Assyria. But God defines Assyria as “the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” God commissions Assyria sovereignly, to act as the destroyer. To go into the holy land, the land of the covenant people to seize booty, plunder and trample them down like mud in the streets. Assyria, then, is under a divine decree.
This is not the will of Assyria. This is not their plan, this is not their motivation - verse 7 says that – “yet he does not mean so.” Assyria has no intention of being the instrument of Jehovah God; they don’t even believe in Jehovah God. They think the God of Israel is just another one of the gods like all the gods of the other nations around them, which they had already conquered.
They don’t have a personal will in this that connects with God in any way. “Rather” verse 7 says “it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations.” From their standpoint, they’re motivated by one thing: “We’ve conquered all the other nations around here with weak gods, and in the power of our own Assyrian god we will conquer this weak Judah and Jerusalem.”
Yet God pronounces judgment on them, when they are doing what He wills them to do. Verse 12, “So it will be when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will then say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.’” And when they have completed His task, God will turn on them and judge them.
So here you have, side by side, a divine decree and human responsibility. “I’ll punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness. For he said, ‘By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, for I have understanding; I removed the boundaries of the peoples and plundered their treasures, and I brought down their inhabitants.’”
“Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, will send a wasting disease among the Assyrian army, under His glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day.” On the one hand, Assyria is an instrument under the sovereign power of God; on the other hand, Assyria is fully guilty and to be judged for the very acts they did.
Scripture doesn’t say any more; there are no qualifiers, caveats or explanations. Turn to John 3, and Jesus is having a conversation with Nicodemus, who is a leader and a ruler of the Jews, a Pharisee. He’s a teacher, someone who ostensibly knows the Word of God and biblical theology, Old Testament theology; but he’s burdened because he wants to enter the kingdom of God.
So, Jesus speaks to him in John 3:3, and says, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born from above, he can’t see the kingdom of God.” Jesus says to him, “Nicodemus, if you’re going to be regenerated, it has to come down from above. You can’t achieve it.” Because the Jews were trying to work their way into the kingdom, and the message of Jesus is you can’t do it that way.
And Nicodemus understands that Jesus is talking in an analogy and says, “How can I enter a second time into my mother’s womb and be born?” He’s talking in a metaphoric language; he gets the picture. Jesus is saying, “You need a new birth. You need to be regenerated from above.” You need a spiritual birth, and that doesn’t come from the flesh. It’s not anything you can do.
Jesus said, “Look, this is a divine work that comes down from above, that constitutes a total regeneration, new life, and you can’t produce it,” because flesh can only produce flesh. “You need a spiritual birth from heaven.” And in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes, you hear the sound of it, you don’t know where it comes from, and you don’t know where it’s going.”
Jesus says, “This is a divine miracle from heaven. “This is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit comes to whom He will when He wills.” And yet look at verse 15, “Whoever believes will in Him will have eternal life.” That sounds like human will. You say, “But how do you harmonize them?” The same way the Bible does. They’re both realities, they both co-exist, without an explanation.
Verse 16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life.” Verse 18: “He who believes in Him is not judged. He who does not believe has been judged already.” Verse 36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” In John 6:35 Jesus says, “I’m the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
Then you come to verse 37, “All the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I’ll certainly not cast out. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I lose none, but raise him up on the last day.” So, salvation belongs only to those whom the Father gives to Christ. Verse 44: “No one comes to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
And yet verse 35: “He who believes in Me will never thirst. And yet you’ve seen Me, and you do not believe.” That’s human responsibility. He says, “Whoever believes can come.” In Acts 2:22 Peter says, “Men of Israel, Jesus the Nazarene, the man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst. Jesus was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” That’s a divine decree by God.
“You nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” It was a divine decree, but you are responsible for your act against Christ. Who were the guilty parties? Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the people of Israel did exactly what God predetermined to be done. But all the people who were complicit in the execution of Christ stand guilty before God.
Scripture consistently puts divine sovereignty and human responsibility together. It was Judas, in the first chapter of Acts, who was prophesied to do what he did, because God ordained that he would do what he did, and when he did what he did he was held fully accountable for what he did, and went to hell. Romans 9 and 10 are the most powerful connection of these two doctrines.
Now, in Romans 9, Paul wants to apply this gospel to lost sinners, specifically to the people nearest and dearest to his heart, the Jews. These are the people who, when they embrace the doctrine of divine sovereignty, get out of balance, and don’t equally embrace the responsibility of the sinner to believe and so they become indifferent to evangelism. They think, “Well, it’s all pre-determined.”
Paul has a burning passion for the salvation of both Jew and Gentile. Everyone is responsible to believe himself. Israel’s unbelief doesn’t mean the promises of God has failed. Rather, “they’re not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” God never intended to save all Israel. Not all Jewish people who are Jewish by race are intended to be in the kingdom. No, not all Israel is spiritual Israel.
Not everybody who is a descendant of Abraham is going to be a child of God. God is selective. He rejected Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, and brought blessing to and through Isaac. Isaac had twins, Jacob and Esau. Romans 9:11 says, “Before they had done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand.” It was God who said, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.”
Verse 14, “Is this unfair?” And the answer is, there is no injustice with God. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Is not God the righteous one? God has always operated this way. Romans 9:15 says, ‘I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy, I’ll have compassion on whom I’ll have compassion.’ Because it doesn’t depend on the man who wills, but on God who has mercy.”
God makes choices and determines. Romans 9:19, “Why does he still find fault?” Then how can God blame me for anything? “For who can resist His will?” And here’s the answer. “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” Does the potter not have a right over the clay to make from the same lump a vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
But in verse 30, you learn that Paul also understood human responsibility. “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who didn’t pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, didn’t arrive at that law.” Here he says something that sounds completely opposite. The Gentiles received that righteousness through faith.
And he’s talking here about the Gentile believers who constituted the church. “Israel didn’t pursue it by faith,” verse 32 says. Why? Because that faith had to be put in Jesus Christ, and they stumbled over that. Then he quotes in verse 33 Isaiah again, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of offense.” The Gentiles didn’t stumble over Christ. They were saved, and received righteousness.
In Romans 10, the Jews have a wrong understanding of God. And they have the wrong understanding of their own sin. They don’t know how righteous God is, and they try to establish their own righteousness, so they never subject themselves to the righteousness of God. They think they’re more righteous than they are, God is less righteous than He is, and so, they cannot meet God’s standard.
They lack knowledge about Christ. Romans 10:4, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” All men break the law of God. The law of God will, then, condemn them to everlasting punishment, unless the power of the law is broken. It can only be broken when it is satisfied by a punishment, and Christ bore the punishment, thus ended the law to all who believe.
Verse 9, “Confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you’ll be saved; for with the heart a man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Verse 11 says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” So it’s repeated again, and the operative word is whoever.
We need to understand our gospel duty. Our duty shows up in verse 14: “How will they call on Him in whom they haven’t believed? How will they believe in Him whom they haven’t heard? How will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they’re sent?” No wonder people say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.”
Verse 17 says, “Faith comes from hearing by the Word of Christ.” If you want people to believe, you’ve got to take the message to them. Verse 21, “As for Israel, God says, “All the daylong I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Isaiah 65:2) Romans 11:33, “Oh, the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
Verse 34, “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” You can’t think the way God thinks. All I know is what the Scripture says, and I am content to say I can’t know the mind of the Lord. You don’t have any leverage with God, because He doesn’t owe you anything. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Let us pray.